NEWTOWN — During the Board of Police Commissioners meeting Tuesday, September 1, Police Chief James Viadero highlighted information from House Bill 6004, the police accountability bill that was passed in June, and he explained how the state legislature’s changes would impact law enforcement in Newtown.
In his presentation, the chief said the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council, which oversees the hiring, training, retention, and certification of municipal officers, would become responsible for certification of state police officers.
Should POSTC revoke certification of a law enforcement officer, that man or woman could not serve in in Connecticut; using a firearm that results in the injury or death of another person will result in a review to determine if certification should be removed.
Chief Viadero said that the POSTC would define parameters for decertification.
As the commission discussed the impact of the bill, the chief said that there is some confusion, describing a hypothetical situation in which a labor board reinstates an officer following an incident but POSTC does not reinstate certification.
He surmised that the situation would be resolve in court and feels that such a conflict is possible. “Inevitably, it’s going to come up.”
The bill defines a three-year cycle, within which certification must be maintained with 60 hours of training and a drug test for controlled substances and steroids. The test would take place randomly within the cycle.
Chief Viadero said implicit bias training would be mandatory for both existing officers and new recruits and he is working to create a custom session that will take place before the end of the year.
He said that mandated training and after action reporting would address how officers deal with protestors before he expressed confidence in the existing Newtown Police Department protocols, which include mandates expressed in the new bill, such as the display of name tags.
Recruiting and hiring of minority officers will be tied to reporting and an accountability task force will be formed to examine how officers conduct no-knock warrants and to define the primary violations for traffic stops.
Chief Viadero said that mechanical violations may be eliminated as a primary violation to justify a traffic stop as he said his department is trying to get in front of what he expects to be a significant amount of information that will need to be shared with officers.
An update to behavioral health assessments will be effective on January 1, 2021, requiring the performance of the assessments every five years.
Chief Viadero anticipates POSTC will make recommendations for testing and, while such testing might identify someone who might be a danger to the public, he would like the testing to support the wellbeing of officers, perhaps identifying trauma or other factors that should be addressed to help the men and women in his command.
Expenses related to assessments and drug testing are unfunded mandates and will be included in the police operating budget.
Addressing the idea that police officers should not respond to mental health issues, the chief noted that police are first responders and 80 percent of the Newtown force is trained to assess crisis situations.
A clinician works exclusively with Newtown and Danbury police and he said, “We already have a robust program in place. We’re ahead of the curve there.”
He said a clinician has been on site for recent responses and noted that a recipient suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder had recently sent a note of gratitude to the police department after they provided assistance with clinical support.
He believes that program may become a model for use by other departments in Connecticut.
Body and dash cameras are already in use by Newtown police, although the former will need to be replaced because of regular use.
As of October 1, officers cannot ask for consent to search a vehicle if the traffic stop is only due to a traffic violation; searches can be made if probable cause exists.
“These are things that will require us to train our officers,” the chief said of the bill’s content.
Penalties have increased for improper use of 911, including the use of race or ethnicity to weaponize police action. Changes for use of force and related training have also changed and POSTC is working on the related policies.
The chief said he is a member of the policy committee but is concerned about the policy timeline, which must be written and implemented, with officer training by April 1, 2021; he anticipates that scenario training will clarify how and when officers use force.
The bill creates a new position to review the use of deadly physical force and to lead the investigation. The town will not be held financially responsible for legal and other costs for officers found to be using willful, wanton, or vicious action.
Chief Viadero said many items in the bill are in place within various departments in Connecticut but the bill should provide consistency.
Before going into executive session to discuss personnel matters, the commission noted that positive stories don’t always get attention but they assured the chief that the actions of the police department are appreciated.